Vatican Deepening Investigation Into Cover-Up Crookston Bishop

News: US News
by Stephen Wynne  •  •  February 4, 2020   

Inquiry into allegations against Bp. Michael Hoeppner advances

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CROOKSTON, Minn. ( - The Vatican has greenlighted St. Paul-Minneapolis Abp. Bernard Hebda to "conduct further investigation" into cover-up allegations against Bp. Michael Hoeppner of Crookston.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the diocese of Crookston announced that the Congregation for Bishops in Rome handed Hebda the directive "recently."

According to the statement, Hebda's investigation will seek to uncover whether Hoeppner "engaged in 'acts or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid civil or canonical investigations of clerical sexual misconduct' as prescribed by the motu proprio, 'Vos estis lux mundi.'"

Accused of covering up cases of homosexual predation by diocesan clergy, in September, Hoeppner became the first bishop in the world to undergo investigation according to the Pope's new guidelines.

Faithful Crookston Catholic Ron Vasek claims that as a minor, he was sexually assaulted by diocesan priest, Fr. Roger Grundhaus., who was later promoted to Crookston vicar general.

When he came forward with the claim decades later, Vasek alleges, Bp. Hoeppner tried to force him into silence by threatening his son, a priest in the diocese.

This Bishop remains stubbornly indignant and seemingly unaware of his complete loss of credibility among the Catholics in the Diocese of Crookston.

Reflecting on the investigation in September, Vasek told Church Militant, "This is what I worked for for two and a half years — to get the truth exposed."

In October 2018, Hoeppner was called to give a video-taped deposition regarding accusations of cover-up. The bishop was challenged over allegations he covered for multiple credibly accused predators, including Grundhaus, Vasek's alleged abuser.

At times during his testimony, Hoeppner appeared dismissive; at others, amused. Much of his testimony was spent dodging attorneys' questions.

Ron Vasek

When pressed about Fr. Patrick Sullivan, removed from ministry over reports of sexual impropriety — but later returned to ministry with Hoeppner's approval — the bishop admitted: "We take all things into consideration. We make a determination to put the man back into ministry. That's what was done."

In the past few months, fed-up Crookston faithful have been campaigning against Hoeppner, demanding that he step down.

In December, a petition was launched calling for the bishop's resignation.

"Just as clergy must resign when found guilty of sexual crimes and sins perpetrated under the guise of holiness and authority, so must this Bishop resign for being a silent accomplice in these crimes and sins committed by clergy in the Diocese of Crookston," the petition reads.

"By this Bishop's inaction, deceit, and indifference he has placed our youth in danger of becoming the next dehumanizing statistic in the Church's sexual abuse and misconduct crisis," it adds. "This Bishop remains stubbornly indignant and seemingly unaware of his complete loss of credibility among the Catholics in the Diocese of Crookston."

But instead of relinquishing power, Hoeppner has doubled down in recent weeks, launching what some in the diocese say is a persecution of beloved local priest, Fr. Bryan Kujawa.

On Jan. 14, Hoeppner placed Fr. Kujawa on leave for "non-criminal, non-sexual boundary violations."

After the announcement, one local Catholic told Church Militant that he was "thoroughly disgusted" with Hoeppner's treatment of Fr. Kujawa, and voiced concern that "good young priests" are being "purged" from the diocese of Crookston.

He went on to stress the need for Catholics to fight against corruption in the Church. "It's a big boulder to push, but we've got to keep pushing on it," he said.

In light of the nature of the accusations against Hoeppner, the Congregation for Bishops has transferred the his "faculty to deal with cases of sexual abuse against clerics of the Diocese of Crookston" to Abp. Hebda for the duration of the investigation.

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